English blog archive 2019

August 2019 © Gaby van Halteren

To Follow or Not To Follow

Good advice is hard to get these days

Disclaimer: this blog expresses my personal opinion, nothing more and nothing less.

This is about all the books, blogs and articles trying to tell me how to write my book. Some of them are useful, and I've learned a great deal from reading them. But for every blog out there, there is another one stating the exact opposite of the first. Which should I believe? Which should I follow?

Using common sense is the obvious choice, but that is easier said than done; sometimes both sides make compelling arguments, and it's close to impossible to choose. Then how about the middle ground? The best of both worlds? That actually might work, let's see:

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

1. Write every single day vs. It's not necessary to write every day

To become first a good and then a better writer, you must hone your craft, and that means writing every day. It doesn't matter whether you feel like it or not, sit your butt down in that chair and write! I understand that practice makes perfect (well, as perfect a writer as you can get). And it might be true for non-fiction writers or bloggers. Just choose a topic and start writing or go back to the chapter you didn't finish yesterday.

But as a fiction writer I won't be able to write a scene full of emotion if and when I don't have any inspiration whatsoever. Other, more experienced writers probably will, but not me. I might try to get into the right mood by playing music, but if that doesn't work, I don't stay in my chair no matter what. Staring at a cursor on an empty screen or writing something I know I will delete later is, in my opinion, a waste of valuable time and won't make me a better writer, because it can never be my best writing.

However, thinking about writing, devising a scene or story twist or doing some world building are all things I can do instead, and one of them will always work. I may not be writing-writing, but all the same getting closer to finishing my work in progress. It might take me a while longer to find my own voice (still searching for it, btw), but I'm a lot happier and stress-free.

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2. Read as many books as possible vs. Restrict your reading, follow your own path

I used to be a voracious reader. It started when I learned how to read at age four, not willing to wait until school decided it was time for me to learn how to read. I read my way through several libraries, from fiction to non-fiction, from romance to horror and everything in between. But reading Kant and Nietzsche at age eleven taught me one thing and one thing only: that I wasn't ready for philosophy at that age.

Later I slowed down; life got in the way. For many years I didn't have time to read more than a few books a years, because there were too many other things I wanted or needed to do. The silver lining: I picked those books very carefully.

Since I've decided (pretty late in life) that I want to be a fiction writer, reading books feels different now. There are books about writing, self-publishing, and book marketing that are very valuable, and I need to read those. Fiction, especially the genre I am writing in, is another matter. Some of these books I read as a reader, some as a writer. But I don't think quantity over quality is ever the way to go. I want to find my own voice, my own path, and reading too many books will only lead to me imitating other writers, whether in style or story. I know, there is only a limited number of story 'archetypes' that have been told and retold all through history, but will reading as much as possible in my and other genres help me come up with something original or exactly the opposite? The jury is still out on that one.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

3. Always carry a notebook with you vs. Don't take notes, you won't forget the good stuff

At my age and with my chaotic life I can be brief about this: I need notebooks, plural! I keep several small notebooks around the house, in every room, even the bathroom, and at least one in my purse. Whenever I think of something, an idea for a dialogue or an item for my grocery list, I write it down. I know by now that even the best idea ever will be lost forever if I. Don't. Write. It. Down. Writing by hand works the best, I remember what I write a lot better and longer than with using a keyboard (see also my previous blog My Writing Sanctum and Sanctuary here).

 

This was fun! I think I might write another blog like this one about an important rule of writing, Show Don't Tell, just to see where it will lead me.

My best advice for you: You are the expert on you! So don't follow advice that isn't right for you – not even this one.

 

The blog post To Follow or Not To Follow was first published on puresimplewriting.com.

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Photo by Lisa Moyneur on Unsplash

Alas, not my bathroom, but I love it!

July 2019 © Gaby van Halteren

My Writing Sanctum and Sanctuary

I'm the most creative in my bathroom in the morning. Though I'm definitely NOT a morning person, my bathroom in the morning is my sanctum and my sanctuary from the world.

As soon as I leave it the real world comes (c)rushing in with emails, phone calls, clients needing translations, blogs or copywriting, and other work that has nothing to do with creative writing.

But ... as long as I'm in my bathroom the rest of the world doesn't exist, only my own little piece of it, my world, my story world. Whatever comes to mind I write down in a notebook – yes, the paper version – that's always in the bathroom (actually two notebooks, so I can take the one I just wrote in to my computer and still have one left in the bathroom at all times).

Benefits of writing by hand

Writing with an actual pen on an actual piece of paper is not only making a comeback in my bathroom but all over the world. While it was viewed as old-fashioned for years, scientific evidence now shows that writing by hand has many benefits, among them my favorite: it makes you more creative and connects you to the words by fully engaging your brain. It seems your brain works quite differently when you write by hand compared to when you use a keyboard or a smartphone.

Some of the other benefits include:

Most of what I write in the bathroom is actually pretty good stuff and doesn't need much ironing out. A twist for the story or a new character for my fantasy novel, a name (I'm always looking for special names) or even a great topic for my blogs (yes, I wrote this in the bathroom as well!). I take my notepad to the computer, type it in, alter a word here or rearrange a sentence there, and the notepad goes back into the bathroom.

I know that many writers swear by dictating because it saves an enormous amount of time. You can 'write' thousands of words an hour and have an entire book done in a week or less. I haven't tried it nor will I any time soon; I'm doing it old-school. My gut says you can't possibly have the same connection with the words, experience them the same way if you only say them out loud instead of writing them down. I need that connection. I need that experience. When I put pen to paper I see the words in my mind before I write them down, in color! – my very own wor(l)d building in my bathroom.

 

The blog post My Writing Sanctum and Sanctuary was first published on puresimplewriting.com.

 

Missed a blog post? You can read all of them in my archive here (2018) and here (2019).

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June 2019 © Gaby van Halteren

 

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

 

In April this year's first Camp NaNoWriMo took place. No, not somewhere in the great outdoors, but virtually. I participated for the first time, and it was a rollercoaster ride.

What is Camp NaNoWriMo, you ask?

Well, these strange syllables thrown together are, of course, an abbreviation; the whole name is rather long and if you're taking part in it you simply don't have the time to say the whole thing every time someone asks you about it. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Traditionally this month is November and when you as a novel writer participate in it, you are supposed to write 50.000 words in those 30 November days. NaNoWriMo has become a tradition, an institution even, and all around the world writers take part in it every year.

You just said April, not November!

Yes, I did. In April and July there are two related events called Camp NaNoWriMo. Since camp usually is associated with exciting adventures and cozy evenings around the campfire, these events are more laid back. You are allowed to choose your own goal, whether it is word or page count or hours spent writing. There are cabins you can join which represent groups of writers supporting each other. In these groups you can ask any question you might have or get a virtual pat on the back (if you deserve it, that is).

My goal last April was to write at least 15.000 words of the prequel to my fantasy trilogy. I had decided I was going to write the prequel first, make it a novella with all the background information my readers would need before, during or after reading the trilogy itself.

The first days were hard. I had a lot of work, my clients were waiting for translations and blogs, and I was supposed to write at least 500 words a day of a story I had no real outline or plot for (yet). I had started to think about the story in March, but didn't get very far, so on top of not having much time I had to wing it.

The Muddy Middle

Mid-April the worst seemed to be behind me, I was in the writing zone, had found something resembling a plot, and I had written the word count I was supposed to. But then my mother came to visit, my grandson turned four, we celebrated my son's and daughter's birthday (yes, twins) and Easter at the same time, and my clients still wouldn't let up. Within a few days I fell behind with my writing and I felt guilty as hell.

I briefly thought about quitting and trying again in July, but I knew July wouldn't be any different from April. Did I want to be a writer or not? I needed to double down or accept defeat. If you know me, you know that defeat is not an option. So I doubled down, looking for the flow I had lost. To my relief, I found it pretty quickly, hiding in plain sight. After writing some twists and turns for the story, the path right down to The End was finally clear.

On April 30, I had written 17.500 words and made myself proud. Now, a month and a half later, the prequel is almost done. It will be finished by the end of June.

And after June comes July, and guess what, I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo again. This time my goal is 20.000 words for the first book of my trilogy. YES, I CAN!

 

PS: I am, of course, very happy with my day job, my clients and all the work they provide me with, otherwise I wouldn't be able to live the great life I'm living, writing my novels. So, thank you, dear clients. No hard feelings, right?

 

The blog post The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship was first published on puresimplewriting.com.

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Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

April 2019 @ Gaby van Halteren

World Builder's Disease

 

Uh, excuse me, writer – world builder – word builder ... is that really a thing?

Actually, yes, it is. And I suffered from it. For me personally it felt like having bipolar disorder. It was heaven and hell, both at the same time. The flow I should have been in, writing my story, was reserved for world building and I didn't seem to be able to stop. Add a landmark here and a piece of history there – there was no end in sight?

The 'Pitfall' that is World Building

In genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, alternative history but also when writing stories in other genres you have to create a world for your novel. It may be just the immediate surroundings of your hero and villain but it can also be a whole world, a planet, a solar system or even an entire universe.

That is no small task but a very rewarding one, at least for me. At the beginning I had no idea how and where to start but as soon as I had created the most important characters I imagined the world they would want to live in and took it from there. Slowly but steadily the world began to take shape, first the continents and oceans, then the countries and so forth. I asked myself what kind of governments would exist and how people would live and work in that world. I created the 'broad strokes' first, then added details and more details and more details ... you get the idea.

For quite some time my imagination run overtime until ...

... I read Storyworld First: Creating a Unique Fantasy World for Your Novel by Jill Williamson and she started to talk about World Builder's Disease. Suddenly what was happening to me made complete sense. It's so much easier to handle an affliction like that when you know that it has a name and you're not the only one suffering from it. Since reading that book I have moved on from mostly world building to mostly writing and it's going great. Especially since I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo – I am actually crushing it right now! More about that in my next blog post in May.

Encore: I want to share the world I built, the world of my books and my characters, with my readers – all of it. Unfortunately that is not a good idea. It would probably result in me dumping the information on my readers, all of it and all at once which, in turn, would probably result in me losing my readers, all of them. Too much of a good thing still is too much, right? :-)

So I have to find the best way to tell my readers about my world in bits and pieces that make sense and keep it interesting and entertaining. Writing isn't supposed to be easy, is it?

 

The blog post World Builder's Disease was first published on puresimplewriting.com.

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Photo by Katarzyna Gonsior on Unsplash

 

February 2019 @ Gaby van Halteren

It's beginning to pour!

I love waterfalls. Much like the sea, they remind me of eternity and my own mortality. They make me think, ponder, reminisce, they bring out melancholy and bliss at the same time. Usually.

Not today. Today this waterfall is a symbol for my writing. To be more specific, for me writing my fantasy novels. Yes, plural. It is going to be a trilogy – at least.

For years my creativity was practically non-existent. It was there, somewhere in one of the drawers of my memory, but it stayed put because I simply had no time or use for it. That began to change when I started my own business. To make it, to build a viable business that would sustain me, I needed some creativity so I opened that drawer. At first it was just a trickle, just the amount I needed, until creativity decided it wasn't going to let itself be suppressed anymore.

The need to write surfaced again after many years of me ignoring it. Close to oblivion I didn't think about in a long time. But now I started to scribble again, three words here and a sentence there and sometimes even a paragraph. At first I decided I should be blogging to further my business and that's what I did. Then people from my entrepreneurs' network asked if I wanted to write a monthly column for them and I said yes. Then clients wanted copywriting for their website or flyer or blog and I did that, too.

But now that the memory drawer was open all of that wasn't enough, I wanted more. There were so many bits and chunks of stories floating around in my head that I needed to write them down. And the wish to be a 'real' writer, the wish I had since I was a kid, the wish I had buried in that drawer together with my creativity, turned out to be alive and kicking again.

Fast forward to today. A few hours ago I bought a book cover. It's one of those premade cover designs but it's perfect for me. Now I only need to write the book for the cover... Before you think I lost my marbles, let me explain:

I have been world building and plotting my first fantasy novel for weeks now. I discovered that I love world building and all the details that have to be imagined and worked out, I simply can't get enough of it. So I decided that one book simply isn't enough for this world I'm building, I need to write at least three ... and a prequel to explain the history of this world.

And then I received an email announcing a sale of premade book covers this weekend and this weekend only and I thought I'd check it out. After all, I have to know what's out there, I am going to need a cover some day. I browsed the fiction section of the covers – and there it was, the perfect cover for my prequel. As soon as I saw that cover I knew what the prequel had to be about and how I had to introduce my world to the (real) world. The cover 'spoke' to me. Just like that. Although this was a rather strong reaction to this particular cover, things like that happen to me all the time. Any image, photo, poster or even just some background or wallpaper can trigger not just a feeling or a memory, but the beginning of a story which unfolds before my inner eye without me being able (or wanting) to stop it.

So I bought the cover. And now I'm writing the prequel to my fantasy trilogy. I'm switching back and forth between them to make sure everything makes sense.

I'm not showing you my cover just yet, I don't want to jinx it, I'm a tad superstitious. But it will be revealed in all its glory as soon as I finished my first draft, to make sure I don't back out when it hits me that my book will soon be out there for everyone to see ...

Stay tuned for my updates about my writing journey. I need someone to hold me accountable so I won't be able to procrastinate and that someone is you!

 

The blog post It's beginning to pour! was first published on puresimplewriting.com.

 

Pure writing.

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Pure and simple: writing.